UK TikTok hero Sam Ryder has a new song out, “Mountain”, which he showcased during triumphant return to Eurovision, where, accompanied by a cameo from Queen’s Roger Taylor, he achieved an unexpected British 2nd place. To promote “Mountain,” Ryder recently appeared on Chris Evans’ radio show, and included an acoustic version of his previous single, a cover of “You’ve Got the Love.”
At Cover Me, our goal is to share great covers, whether they comes from artists with ten fans or ten million. But I am always vaguely curious what cover songs break out, which among the thousands we hear each year become genuine hits.
I was reminded of this when a recent Country Now headline crossed my Google Alerts: “Luke Combs’ ‘Fast Car’ Cover Is A Streaming Giant.” After only a month, the country star’s fairly faithful take on Tracy Chapman’s 1988 classic has racked up 33 million streams in the U.S. alone. Covers by famous singers come and go, but this one clearly has staying power.
So I decided to try to figure out which other covers from the 21st century have reached this level of breakout success. I’m not privy to Billboard‘s deep-dive chart data, so I used an easy metric available to an amateur like myself: Seeing how many plays something has on Spotify. As good a measure for “a popular song” as you can probably get these days, albeit still imperfect.
I found twenty-four 21st-century covers with over 100 million U.S. streams as of this writing (April 2023). Some very popular covers didn’t quite make the 100m+ threshold: Weezer’s “Africa” (75 million), Iron & Wine’s “Such Great Heights” (76 million), Fall Out Boy and John Mayer’s “Beat It” (89 million). Ryan Adams’ “Wonderwall” only just crossed the 100 million streams mark in the past couple months. And while older covers obviously have an advantage in more time to rack up plays, number one — by a lot! — came out only a few years ago.
Here’s the list of 24. No commentary since, for once, we’re not unearthing buried treasures here. Let’s count down the 24 most-streamed covers on Spotify, with the year of release and number of streams as of this writing. (And it’s possible, even likely, I missed a few, so feel free to suggest additions in the comments — if they qualify, I’ll add ’em.)
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Bria – When You Know Why You’re Happy (Mary Margaret O’Hara’ cover)
Bria’s “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” made our list of the Best Covers of 2022. The track was a sneak peak at her covers EP Cuntry Covers Vol. 2, and the full thing dropped a few weeks ago. It includes a wonderful version of this much more obscure song. Bria explains: “Mary Margaret O’Hara is a creative force and one of my favorite Canadian artists. I have been a huge fan of hers for quite some time and really wanted to try my hand at one of her songs for Vol. 2. She is a real queen of vocal improvisation. It’s a trait of hers that I’ve always admired, so I really wanted to explore that when recording this cover. The video for this track is special to us, a sort of collage of memory; fragmented footage of summer taken over the last two years is dispersed throughout shots of a vast winter scene, filmed while we finished the record up North with our live band.” Continue reading »
In support of their latest album, Dance Fever, English rockers Florence + The Machine stopped by radio station SiriusXM to play a couple of tracks, including a new cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” Continue reading »
Arcade Fire – As It Was (Harry Styles cover)
We kick off this month’s list with not one but two Harry Styles covers! And both performed for the BBC Live Lounge, no less, which clearly went all-in on promoting Harry’s new solo album. First up is Arcade Fire, also currently doing the promo rounds for their own new album, tackling Harry’s new song “As It Were.” It speaks to how much classic-rock Styles has in his DNA that the song fits perfectly in Arcade Fire’s anthemic-rock template. Never ones to not go out, the cover features multiple twelve-string guitars and a dude playing a giant rack of tubes with a hammer. Continue reading »
Al Green – Before the Next Teardrop Falls (Freddy Fender cover)
Sorry, Beyoncé; the biggest surprise release of the year might be Al Green’s sudden return after a decade away. Well, not totally away; he still conducts weekly services at his Memphis church and, when I attended, was liberally sprinkling quotes from “Love and Happiness” and “Take Me to the River” into his sermons. Best of all: This Freddy Fender cover sounds like Al hasn’t lost a step. It’s apparently a one-off, but hopefully recording it will whet his appetite to do more. Continue reading »